Guest Blogger: Jason Helopoulos

The most important thing a pastor can do is pursue personal holiness. Robert Murray M’Cheyne, the famous nineteenth century Scottish Presbyterian, was right when he said, “The greatest need of my people is my own holiness.”

This may sound like pastoral hubris, but it is just the opposite. A faithful pastor knows that He must passionately pursue Christ. This is essential to being a pastor. A gospel minister who acknowledges this truth rightly ascertains the seriousness of his calling and the source of its fruitfulness.

“Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me…Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing,” said the Head of the Church (John 15:4-5). A gospel minister not pursuing Christ might as well be looking back from the plow (Luke 9:62). He is going nowhere and his labor will bear thistles rather than fruit.

In fact, a lack of personal holiness in the pastorate has ruined many churches and many lives. The pastor like a boulder on top of a hill, when falling, can have a cascading effect upon everything below him. Our adversary does not lack this knowledge. He is well aware that if he can make one pastor stumble or turn away from following Christ passionately, then an entire church can be affected. At times, an entire denomination, city, or even country can be negatively affected by one pastor’s sins. Conversely, where one finds a pastor, who is a man of Christ-like character and holiness, one also often finds maturity among the people under his care.

Why is this? Because apart from Christ, he can do nothing. Oh dear pastor, always remember this truth. Emblazon it upon your soul, seal it upon your heart, and continually recall it in your mind. Your intellect, your abilities, your gifts, and your experience, though helpful, do not produce fruit. Only He can. And He chooses to bear fruit through those who are abiding in Him.

As an under-shepherd, the pastor models before his congregation Christian living. The people in the pew look to him. He represents Christ, His demands, and His calling to those under his care. They will not believe what they hear from his lips, if they do not see it in his life. There is no way around it, hypocritical pastors produce wayward children. We cannot encourage what we do not know. This does not mean that a pastor has to be perfect. How foolish such an opinion would be. None of us will be perfectly holy in this life–far from it!

And every congregation knows this not only about themselves, but about their pastor. They know his weaknesses. They come to recognize his sinful inclinations and sinful habits. This is part of living in community. It is difficult to hide who we are. In fact, we cannot and must not hide who we are. Rather, pastors, declare with your living who you are in Christ. You are a sinner saved by grace. Show how a sinner saved by grace is to live. Seek to mortify the deeds of the flesh (Colossians 3:5)  and live more and more in the graces of Christ (Colossians 3:12ff). Strive to manifest works of righteousness for His glory (Ephesians 2:10). Continually beat the drum of resting and striving by His grace (Matthew 11:28-29; Philippians 2:12). Our people are watching and by God’s grace, they will follow where we lead. Not only by our words, but by our very lives, we are proclaiming Him, “warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom that we might present everyone mature in Christ. For this I (we) toil, struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within me (us)” (Colossians 1:28).

Pastors, you do not bear responsibility for the results or fruit of your ministry, but you do bear responsibility for the effectiveness of your ministry. And nothing is more essential to your effectiveness than personal holiness–dependence upon the Lord, living in His grace, passionately pursing His person and truth, and laboring for His glory.

As Robert Murray M’Cheyne said on another occasion, “A holy minister is an awful weapon in the hand of God.” By His grace, be that weapon for His glory.

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24 thoughts on “The Pastor’s Personal Holiness”

  1. Richard UK says:

    maybe but this sounds like straining at a gnat – not that personal ‘holiness’ is not important but it is something we should all look forward to. What distinguishes a pastor is that he should also have a God-given (not just self-identified) gift of preaching the gospel – not just a set of holiness rules

    The Pharisees would have spoken much on personal holiness

    Incidentally, in your pursuit of personal holiness, how is your humility – better than previously?

  2. a. says:

    amen. sharing the fullness of the good new (which won’t sound too mush like good news to our remaining flesh)

    and He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross so that we might die to sin and live to righteousness for by His wounds you were healed. 1 Pet 2:24

  3. Bill says:

    Pardon the slightly off topic comment, but what picture is that?

  4. Josh says:

    I agree with preaching the Gospel and having that God given calling and gift. But the pursuit of personal holiness doesn’t automatically mean one would be prideful. In fact, humility would be an enormous part of that pursuit, or at least should be. But to lack in personal holiness (whether it’s pride, greed, power hungry, sexual sin etc…) would discredit a pastor and have destructive effects for any under his care. “It’s not legalistic to obey God, carefully, minutely, and even strictly. Legalism is pressuring him, lobbying him and ignoring Jesus.”

  5. Dianne says:

    Kevin, really, what are you doing at TGC? You don’t belong here, brother! TGC is a social-gospel and heretical, anti-biblical theistic-evolution wagon and led by one of the biggest wolves in so-called Christianity, Tim Keller. Jump ship, brother. JUMP!

  6. Bill says:

    Dianne, why do you say that TGC is a social-gospel?

  7. Richard UK says:


    I disagree. TGV is not a social-gospel; it is a holiness-gospel. You need to go elsewhere for a freedom-gospel or a relational-gospel


    The problem with ‘the pursuit of personal holiness’ suggests that it is something we do ‘with a little help from our Friends’, rather than a mighty work in us by God.

    Legalism is never as crude as you paint it. Legalism is the thought process that assumes that with more holiness I draw closer to God, not for salvation of course, or even for eternal or earthly blessings (heaven forbid) but because that is what ‘we’ are commanded to do (‘we’ being the old man part of us) to show gratitude.

    The Relational-gospel however says that is impossible and that, if you want to try that route (before OR after conversion), you must obey the whole law. The relational-gospel is confident and joyful enough to praise God and trust that God will do his work in us (Phil 2 v13). PS – don’t say this amounts to doing nothing – praising God is the highest calling of man

    So one option believes that holiness leads to intimacy; the other trusts that intimacy leads to holiness. The latter requires more faith

  8. Alan says:

    God requires all his children to walk in holiness. In fact, the job of the pastor is to equip the saints so that they grown in the full maturity of Christ. It is not something only pastors are to do. A pastor does not achieve greater holiness than any other true believer. It all depends on how much you obey God. BTW, obedience shows the level of faith.

  9. Richard UK says:


    nor, incidentally, is holiness something we can expect pastors to be better at – they are not a higher ‘priestly’ class of Christian

    More importantly, I cannot agree with your “It all depends on how much you obey God. BTW, obedience shows the level of faith”

    No, Obedience shows only the level of obedience, Outward obedience shoes the level of outward not inward obedience. The Pharisees were a lot better than you or I at outward obedience

    And the heart is deceitful above all things. Neither the Pharisees nor we know the ugly inward stains of our hearts. Jesus tore into them; do you not think He would tear into us?.

    Yes, if we need to make assessments for practical reasons, then fruit and speech can point to someone being or not being a Christian. but heaven forbid that we should assume that this is how Jesus judges. By works and obedience all are guilty; only by grace through faith are some saved. God places His spirit in some and He will not deny Himself. God’s work from start to finish

  10. J.L. says:

    I think it is interesting that this article focuses on holiness and then uses abiding too. In Christ, we are holy, not in ourselves, but because Jesus has created us holy. See Colossians 3:12. Notice Paul’s introduction to most of his letters and calling the people holy or saints. We are holy because of Christ. I would agree that abiding is essential here. However, the point is not us. As we abide with Jesus, we will confess sin, love God and love others. Grace empowers us to love God and love others. Grace is for all of life. As we get our eyes up on Jesus, actions will follow. However, focusing on holiness or anything else will lead to inward focus and self-justification and trying to live for Jesus in our own strength. Thank God for the gift of the Holy Spirit who empowers us. It is all His working not us.

  11. Hannah May says:

    I realize this may seem a trivial question given the beauty of the article, but who is the artist of the painting above? It is radiant! Thank you.

  12. Jeff says:

    Robert Murray M’Cheyne was wrong when he said, “The greatest need of my people is my own holiness.”

    Word choices matter. The greatest need of “his people” – and our greatest need, too – is Jesus.

    Of course, the pastor’s pursuit of holiness matters greatly. As well as our own. But the heart of Christianity is not about the life of any Christian, pastor or otherwise. The heart – the focus – is Jesus. His perfect life. His perfect obedience. His sacrifice and imputed righteousness.

    His holiness.

  13. Bobby Wood says:

    I agree wholeheartedly. Most of the time when people think of a good pastor they think of a set of characteristics that looks better on a business resume than as a qualification of an elder. But, biblically, 99% of the quality traits of a pastor deal with character and holiness. That should be one of the main things we pursue.

  14. Rebekah says:

    Just wondering who is the artist of the painting. So beautiful!

  15. Jessica says:

    Agree with much of this article and appreciate the post. Question – at the end you mention that we are not responsible for the fruits of our ministry but rather the effectiveness. Can you clarify the difference in your opinion? My husband and I had a lot of good discussion about this article, thanks!

  16. Andy says:

    So a couple people have asked about the image … quick google image search suggests its “Like a Tree Planted by Rivers of Water” by Mark Kuhne

  17. Jason Helopoulos says:

    Jessica, defectiveness is my responsibility in the sense of preparation, tone, delivery, etc. For example, if a pastor enters the pulpit without preparing his sermon by attending to prayer and study then the effectiveness of his preaching will be affected. He is responsible for this. Yet, he is not responsible for its fruitfulness. The pastor may have prepared as much as he is able, deliver the sermon with an effective tone, etc., but it is solely up to the working and moving of the Holy Spirit to apply the preached Word to the listener’s hearts. We are responsible for effectiveness, but not fruitfulness. I hope this helps to clarify.

  18. Jason Helopoulos says:

    “Effectiveness” not “defectiveness,” though that is also often my responsibility!

  19. Richard UK says:

    J L

    I totally agree

    What we need is not our holiness but Jesus, Jesus, Jesus, our savior. And then what we need is Jesus, Jesus, Jesus. That is not superficial sunday school stuff now emerging from a senile 63-year old, but a biblical command and the clear coloring of the OT and NT.

    Sadly TGC is increasingly focusing on a me-gospel of my holiness. What God wants is faith, which always contains the recognition of our lack of holiness

    Otherwise, absurdly, we get to the pearly gates and, when asked why we might enter, we reply ‘I’m trusting on Jesus’ atoning death to cover my sins – though these are a lot less than they used to be’. Is that not the Pharisee who says ‘Thank you, God, that I am not like..’?

  20. SUNOW BOSS says:


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